"The four freshmen came here to do what we're doing," head coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "They're not necessarily overwhelmed by it. This is why they came to Tennessee; this was their expectation.
"It's the guys that have been in the program that didn't necessarily think we're still supposed to be playing in March. They were the ones that probably needed the most winning over in the belief that we could compete."
Junior guard Chris Lofton is amazed at the poise Tennessee's freshmen showed in their first two NCAA Tournament appearances, a 121-86 blowout of Long Beach State and a 77-74 upset of fourth-seeded Virginia. The big stage has not caused them any obvious jitters.
"I think they're handling it real well," Lofton said. "For the first time being in this situation, the NCAA Tournament, I think they're doing a fantastic job so far."
Senior forward Dane Bradshaw echoed those sentiments.
"They've done extremely well," he said. "They want to continue to win more and more. I believe they're unaffected by the success. I think it speaks volumes for them because I don't think there's any team in the Sweet 16 that depends as much on freshmen as we do."
Freshman point guard Ramar Smith made an incredible NCAA Tournament debut – producing 22 points, 6 assists, 3 steals and zero turnovers against Long Beach. He struggled a bit in Game 2, recording 7 points, 1 assist and 5 turnovers vs. Virginia.
Fellow freshman Wayne Chism recorded 10 points in Game 1, 13 in Game 2. Josh Tabb registered 7 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals in Game 1, then 2 points and 2 rebounds in Game 2. Duke Crews posted a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) in Game 1, then followed with 6 points and 2 rebounds in Game 2.
Echoing his coach, Crews says he and the other freshmen are not bothered by the hoopla surrounding the NCAA Tournament.
"This is where we expected to be," Crews said. "Coach told us if we worked hard this is where we would be. We put in the work and got a whole lot of help from the upperclassmen – JaJuan Smith, Chris Lofton, Dane Bradshaw.
"They helped us out a whole lot with the transition. That helped us get into the flow of the tournament quicker. They told us what to expect so, getting there, we weren't shell-shocked. Now it's just playing basketball."